By Jay Strafford
A most unusual detective team — a girl and a cat — returns for a second outing in “As Dark as My Fur” (208 pages, Severn House, $28.99), the second installment in Clea Simon’s newest series.
Carrie “Care” Wright is in her early teens and has taken over her murdered mentor’s business. Blackie is a cat — and the novel’s narrator. When Care is approached by a manufacturer named Gravitch who wants her to find his employee Dingo, Blackie distrusts his motives. But Care takes the job, and the two travel through an unnamed, benighted city on their search.
When they discover a corpse, the stakes rise exponentially, as Care detects and Blackie protects. Along the way, Simon reveals more of their backgrounds.
A combination of hard-boiled crime novel, feline fiction, corruption and even a touch of the supernatural, “As Dark as My Fur” — the latest product of Simon’s imaginative mind — offers a gritty look at the sleazy side of urban life, and the biped and the quadruped who confront it.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even though the saying goes “you can’t always judge a book by its cover,” this actually doesn’t always apply with book covers. However, in the case of As Dark As My Fur, the second book in Clea Simon’s Blackie and Care Cat Mystery series, the cover accurately reflects the book’s feel and tone.
Written in the voice of Blackie, a black cat with a mysterious past, set in an unnamed city with a post-apocalyptic feel, this series combines elements of fantasy and mystery. In As Dark As My Fur, Simon continues the adventures of Blackie and teenager Care, an apprentice private detective.
This book is quite a departure from Clea Simon’s other cat-centric mysteries, and while I adore every single book in her other series, I have to confess, this series is a real stretch for me. I don’t really enjoy reading fantasy, and the almost Dickensian feel of this book was much too dark and depressing for my taste.
I was, however, mesmerized by Simon’s writing. I consider Clea Simon to be an absolutely brilliant writer, regardless of what genre she writes in. Writing in a cat’s voice is an art form, and few writers manage to do it well. In this series, Simon takes this art into a new realm. The way she sets scenes from Blackie’s point of view, and the way she describes how he takes in the world around him, reflects not just a thorough understanding of feline behavior, but also a connection to the feline soul that I have rarely seen in other cat books. The best writers paint pictures with their words. In As Dark As My Fur, Clea Simon paints a sweeping emotional cityscape that will stay with you long after you put the book down.
If you enjoy gritty, dark mysteries with an element of urban fantasy, you will enjoy this book.
Reviewed by Jeanne
Since the apparent death of her mentor, young teen Carrie Wright—better known on the street as Care—has been living in the late detective’s office along with her cat, Blackie. She’s been trying to keep a low profile while eking out a living doing what he taught her: to do the needful, find the missing, locate the wrongdoer, retrieve what has been lost. Now the other shoe has dropped, in the form of an eviction notice, and it appears even her meager shelter will soon go.
Hope arrives in the form of a job offer: a man suspects one of his workers is skimming profits and he asks Care to investigate. When the trail leads to a decomposing body, Care finds she may have been set up. She has only herself to depend on, or so she thinks… Continue reading “”
As Dark as My Fur: A Blackie and Care Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8682-8
Readers who enjoy the prickly pleasure of stepping into a strange alternate universe will welcome Simon’s hypnotic second Blackie and Care mystery (after 2015’s The Ninth Life), set in a blighted unnamed city. Bands of gangsters control the various neighborhoods, bartering is more common than the use of money, and the mostly illiterate masses have to scavenge to eke out a living. Pink-haired teen Carrie “Care” Wright, an apprentice private detective, navigates this treacherous world aided by Blackie, a cat she rescued from drowning. Blackie, the narrator, is no ordinary cat. His consciousness contains not only his feline instincts but also flashes of memories from his past life as a human. When a factory owner hires Care, who has been in charge of the detective agency since her mentor’s murder, to shadow one of his workers, Blackie fears something isn’t quite right. Since he can’t talk, he can do little to warn Care of his misgivings. The novel perilously walks the line between dream and nightmare.
AS DARK AS MY FUR, by Clea Simon, Cat Writer
An orphaned girl makes an unlikely detective in a harsh, dystopian city. Aided by a cat with a past, she seeks answers to a cruel case. Traps are set; gauntlets are run, There is danger everywhere. Narrated by Blackie, an ancient cat who had once been human, the story loops and spirals to the final conclusion and leaves us ready for the next book.
Simon is extremely cat-savvy to pull off this unconventional narration with such accuracy and feeling… Continue reading “Crazy Cat Lady Mysteries”
This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C’s opinions.
Book Review: As Dark as My Fur
Monday, January 23, 2017
We are in love with this series by one of our favorite writers, Clea Simon. As Dark as My Fur is the second book in the Blackie and Care series, and it fully lives up to the promise of the first book, with a darkness and grit that are engrossing but not overwhelming. These are not the sort of lighthearted cozy mysteries we usually review here. Simon’s characters live hard lives in a bleak setting. There is hope, though, in the way they just keep going, and going, and going.
Where did this cat come from, anyway?
The story is told from the point of view of a black cat (Blackie). He is not a young cat. His body hurts sometimes. He’s maybe not as fast as he used to be, and perhaps he can’t jump as high or fight as hard as he used to. Also, he hasn’t always been a cat. It’s probably best if you don’t think too hard about how the soul or spirit or whatever you call it of a human got into a cat, but that is what happened. The first book in this series, The Ninth Life, largely dealt with the cat figuring out who he is. Now he knows.
He used to be a mentor to this pink-haired girl named Care. He was an investigator of sorts, finding things that have been lost—that sort of thing. Only now he’s a cat, unable to speak, unable to clearly communicate all he knows. But he is devoted to Care, to her protection.
Finding things that have been lost
Care, meanwhile, has taken over her mentor’s old business. She and Blackie are living in the old office and trying to take on paying clients, and if they don’t get some soon, they’ll be evicted from the only safe place they have. Also, food would be nice. Blackie can catch his own food, of course, but Care refuses even the best stuff he brings her. This distresses him, as so many things do.
It is against this backdrop that Care and Blackie find themselves caught up in a complex tale of deception, greed, and murder. While Care works to find out what her new client wants to know, Blackie works to untangle the client’s true intention. Because the cat can smell that there’s far more going on than what Care has been told. And the truth in this case is very, very dangerous.
Reviewed by Jeanne
At long last, Dulcie Schwartz seems on the verge of finishing her dissertation: she’s polishing the penultimate chapter, one she thinks might be good enough to submit to a prestigious journal, and has been encouraged by her advisor to add material based on one of her recent discoveries. Then a professor who has just joined her thesis committee writes a scathing critique of her work, and her chances of finally graduating in a few months dwindle. To top it off, he has restricted access to the very documents she needs to finish! No wonder Dulcie is angry enough to threaten to kill Dr. Fenderby—and no wonder that the police see her as a person of interest when the professor in question turns up dead.
Even worse, Dulcie finds herself on disciplinary probation, meaning she has to stop work on her degree, loses her teaching assignment, and is cut off from most of the university.
But there were others who would have had reason to wish Fenderby ill—or do more than wish. After all, someone did beat him to death with a book….
I always have a bit of difficulty deciding how to describe this series and do it justice. It’s not a Gothic, though that is Dulcie’s field of study; it is indeed an academic mystery, but some would take that to mean “dry and dusty,” which it isn’t. There are supernatural overtones—Dulcie feels a psychic connection to the eighteenth century author she’s researching, and she often “hears” her dearly departed cat, Mr. Grey—but again, this isn’t a supernatural mystery. There are cats (almost always a plus for me) but it’s not a cat mystery in the vein of “The Cat Who” by Lilian Jackson Braun or the Joe Grey series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. For me, a new Dulcie is like coming home and slipping into a pair of old jeans and a comfy t-shirt. It’s time to relax and enjoy a visit.
So why do I like this series? First off, I like Dulcie Schwartz, our heroine. I like character-driven stories in general, and Simon has done a wonderful job of creating a character who has grown and changed over the course of the series. Dulcie is a graduate student who is working her way through her dissertation but who tends to get a bit sidetracked—well, okay, more than a bit. This dissertation has morphed into work that may rival the Encyclopedia Britannica unless Dulcie can bring herself to stop researching and start writing. She also sees herself as an eminently sensible and practical when in fact she has much more in common with the Gothic heroines she studies, giving in to impulsive behavior and jumping to unwarranted conclusions—and don’t forget, she believes she’s in contact with the spirit of her late cat. The impression is heightened by the snippets of (to us) wildly overwritten passages from the pages (“Goblets o’erbrimmed with Blood, the noble Ichor…”) but which often contain little clues concealed in the wording that either will reflect Dulcie’s mood or draw attention to a circumstance. Dulcie comes by her tendencies honestly: her mother, a long time commune member, calls to deliver cryptic messages from the ether, all of which Dulcie dismisses without a hint of irony as being too fanciful. The fact that I find Dulcie so appealing is a real testament to Simon’s skill at characterization. I usually have very little patience with heroes or heroines who go off half-cocked, but with Dulcie I just imagine Mr. Grey and I are sitting on the couch, watching indulgently and bemusedly as she rushes in where angels fear to tread.
I like the whole atmosphere of the books: going down deep into the stacks of the library and the almost claustrophobic feel, like going through catacombs, to pan for literary treasure in the scraps of manuscripts. I like the supporting cast, folks I’ve come to know over the books and some of whom, unlike our Dulcie, have actually gone ahead and, um, graduated. It’s no surprise that I like Thomas Griddlehouse, the librarian, who understands and shares Dulcie’s passion for older literature, even though his demeanor is strictly old school professional. Finally, there’s the long-suffering Detective Rogovoy who has a soft spot for Dulcie even when she’s trying to convince him of her latest theory. What a patient man…
I loved that when Dulcie hears that the murder weapon was a book she immediately wonders which title it might have been… because that was my reaction, too. I also love Dulcie’s shock and indignation when she discovers a book is shelved incorrectly, which is only heightened by the lack of reaction of outrage from the police. Don’t they understand the implications?
At this point, I’ll beg indulgence for a story. A long time ago, the library had work study students who came in for some months and did things like shelve books. Many were quite good, but a few were, shall we say, a bit less dedicated. One such young lady came to me to help her find a book she badly needed for a class. I remembered the book. I had seen it on a truck she had been shelving a couple of days before. It was not in its correct spot and in fact I didn’t find it until about two months later. I am quite the fan of poetic justice.
In short, Into the Grey is a bit like a trip down memory lane for me. I get to wander the halls of academe, hang out with friends in my department, solve a mystery, and play with cats. Best of all, there’s no homework and no exams!
Review by Gayle Surrette
Severn House Publishers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727886279
Date: 01 September 2016 List Price $28.99
Things are about to change for Dulcie Schwartz. For one thing, she’s in the home stretch on her dissertation. Then there are the upcoming decisions on what to do after she gains her degree. Where will she apply for work? How will she manage her relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, if they end up working in two different cities or states?
Those issues all become moot when Professor Fenderby is added to her committee and insults her scholarship and her handling of her material. He even locks her out of access to her research material. As if things aren’t bad enough, when she goes to confront him in his office, she finds his body.
Once again, Dulcie has stumbled into the middle of a crime scene. This time people are aware that she was angry and upset and had made statements that could be considered threatening. This time, she’s nearly at the top of the suspect list — well maybe at the actual top of the list. Dulcie is determined to clear her name and get back to her research as soon as possible. However, as usual, she operates on emotion more than reason and that tends to get her in situations where she doesn’t know who to trust or what to do next. Mr. Grey, her dearly loved but now deceased cat, gives her council, but Dulcie, as usual, misinterprets the advice — well it is rather cryptic.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy this series is that Dulcie seems so real. While it is unusual for anyone to so often be in the midst of mayhem and murder, it does fit with her interest in Gothic literature, active imagination, and tendency to rely heavily on emotions over logic when outside of class. She reacts as most of us would expect we would under the circumstances she finds herself in.
The crime has many possible motives and suspects. There’s plenty of red herrings as well as a good measure of academic politics and procedures that tie into the crime and keep the pages turning.
Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:30 pm
By JAY STRAFFORD Special correspondent
Advice to the angry: No matter how upset or frustrated, never say “I could kill (insert name here).” If that person turns up dead, you’ll top the list of suspects.
That’s what happens to Dulcinea “Dulcie” Schwartz in “Into the Grey” (224 pages, Severn House, $28.99), the 10th entry in Clea Simon’s series featuring the Harvard doctoral student.
Dulcie, who’s near to completing her dissertation, is chagrined to learn that her adviser has added Professor Roland Fenderby, a known lecher who dismisses Dulcie’s work as the efforts of a dilettante, to her thesis-review team. And when his head is bashed in with a 10-pound tome, Dulcie finds herself more than a footnote in the investigation. So does her distant cousin, Mina Love, who has accused Fenderby of sexual harassment.
A mystery with multiple potential killers — and a few messages from Dulcie’s late cat, Mr. Grey — Simon’s latest adds to her engaging body of work and will find admirers among academics, ailurophiles and anyone who enjoys an unusual series.